Nick Kirby recently posted an article on Redleg Nation about the potency of the Red’s starting lineup this year. He is definitely correct; the starters are raking right now and deserve a lot of credit for the team’s success. He also touched on the bench players briefly but we will take a more in depth look at that group now.
Thursday night against the Giants in the bottom of the 7th, Drew Storen ran into some trouble with runners on first and second in a 2-2 game. Price made two decisions that I really liked.
The first move was pulling Storen and bringing in Peralta, who has been really good this year. That is a luxury that Price simply did not have last year, and it is really fun to see multiple guys from the pen be able to be called on when the team needs a big out.
The second move was to compound the pitching change with a double switch. Price pulled Peraza and slotted Scooter Gennet into second base and the pitcher’s spot in the order, which was due up first in the top of the 8th inning. Scooter led off the 8th inning with a deep shot to center field that dropped just past the reach of Denard Span. The ball probably could have been caught by some other center fielders (Billy would have been waiting underneath it for a couple seconds, at least) but the fact is Scooter put a nice charge into it and things worked out for the Reds. Gennet found himself on third base and one batter later was brought home on a gapper by Cozart. 3-2 would be the final score with Gennet recording the game winning run.
The fact that Peraza has been struggling is a different subject for another day. The refreshing aspect of the double switch was that the Reds have a bench that allows for moves that like that and can directly lead to positive results and even wins. The bench has been a real issue for the Reds in recent years but it seems to be a different story this year, with a good group of players able to contribute when their number is called.
Below is a chart that includes total WAR and average WAR per player for both the Red’s starters and bench players since 2010. It is an arbitrary cutoff year, but since that was the beginning of the playoff runs I thought it made sense to see a progression since then.
Position Player WAR by Starters and Bench Players
2010 and 2011 saw some really strong teams, starters and bench players included. 2012 and 2013 had much of the same core, and therefore the starters were producing relatively the same WAR. However, a key dropoff was the bench. Guys like Ryan Hanigan, Laynce Nix, Paul Janish, Johnny Gomes, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo turned into Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, Jack Hannahan, Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez. The difference was noticeable at the time, and the numbers bear it out. Jay Bruce’s “streakiness” was not the reason the Reds never won a playoff series. Much of that falls on the front office not providing enough depth.
2017 is a different story. While several reserves got off to slow starts, most everyone seems to be playing very well. Barnhart, Alcantara, Gennett and Kivlehan are all producing positive WAR and everyone but Tucker has a wRC+ above 112. If there is one negative about this group so far, it would have to be Tucker’s offensive performance to date. While he does have a 7% walk rate and the lowest K% of the four reserves, his power is severely lagging, resulting in a 64 wRC+. His positive WAR is entirely from the defensive side, which is not a bad thing but it can be a little hard to rely on statistically. He does pass the eye test behind the plate though, so we will give it to him for now. (For the purposes of this post, I assumed that Mesoraco will be the starter going forward, provided he is healthy. For reference, Barnhart and Mesoraco have the same WAR currently, so including Barnhart as a starter would not affect the numbers.)
The other good news about this group is the future state. They average just over 26 years old and have anywhere from 3-5 years of team control remaining. While there are a lot of potential prospects the Reds hope can supplement this bench even further, this is a great baseline to have going into the next era of competitive teams. Taylor Trammell, Aristedes Aquino, Shed Long, TJ Freidl and Phil Ervin have all shown promise but still have a ways to go before we can pencil them in as future everyday contributors at a big league level. It seems inevitable that some of these guys will be around in the utility or potentially “super sub” role one day. Until then, let’s be thankful for the group that we have and hope they can keep contributing.